Series in Critical Security 6
Michael Chertoff, the U.S. homeland security secretary, told reporters earlier, "We believe that these arrests [in England] have significantly disrupted the threat, but we cannot be sure that the threat has been entirely eliminated or the plot completely thwarted." NY Times. "Plot to Bomb Jets Is Thwarted in Britain".The recent terrorist threat to British and American airlines crossing the Atlantic to the US provides us with an excellent opportunity to inquire about the production, dissemination, and consumption of "threats."
I think its useful to examine first what is meant by the word "threat." (thanks to Craig for the methodology)
Old English þreat "crowd, troop," also "oppression, menace," related to þreotan "to trouble, weary," from P.Gmc. *threutanan (cf. Ger. verdrießen "to vex"), from PIE *trud- "push, press" (cf. L. trudere "to press, thrust," O.C.S. trudu "oppression," M.Ir. trott "quarrel, conflict"). Sense of "conditional declaration of hostile intention" was in Old English The verb threaten is Old English þreatnian; threatening in the sense of "portending no good" is recorded from 1530.
- An expression of an intention to inflict pain, injury, evil, or punishment.
- An indication of impending danger or harm.
- One that is regarded as a possible danger; a menace.
- Taking advantage of a vulnerability.
- A combination of the risk, the consequence of that risk, and the likelihood that the negative event will take place.
Today was the first time that the US has been put on the red SEVERE threat level. But what does this mean, beyond the call for all of us to, "remain vigilant"? What are the political consequences of such a declaration? Is it possible to examine this moment as a discursive event? - creating facts through fiction.David Mamet wrote Secret Names in the Threepenny Review saying, "...the application of jargon, is an understood tool for the manipulation of behavior... If we say that the government has lowered [or raised] the threat level, then we must mean that the government is in charge of the threat. Semantically, what else is the meaning of this "color code"? One cannot act differently on a day coded red than on one coded orange, and indeed no one even suggests that one can... He who defends everything defends nothing, as Napolean said... So semantically - that is, as judged by the way in which words influence thought and so action - the procolamation of the threat level is an admission that there is no threat. Or that if a threat exists, the government is powerless to deal wth it. And those who accept the reiteration of the threat level have submitted... daily trading submission first for an abatement of anxiety and, as time goes by, for painful and shameful self-examination." Even Mamet's thoughts do not truely hit the mark though, in my opinion.
Is this crazy talk? I mean people have died, right? Don't we need to pay attention to this shit to prevent more suffering? This analysis of discourse is not meant to belittle or demean the pain, suffering, and death of the victims of terrorism. It is an effort to understand the context of that violence to honor thier lives by examining the masquerade orchestrated by the state, in which the victims occupy center stage. What could be more belittling than to prop up someone's suffering as a vindication for more suffering. More importantly, this masquerade represents an unwillingness of the state to critically examine thier own, "ethnic state security maps."
The etymology of the word threat contains interesting references to notions of state security. First, the word þreat refers to a crowd or troop signaling a recognition to challenges to soveriegnty and legitmacy. Second, the last instance, "The verb threaten is Old English þreatnian; threatening in the sense of "portending no good" is recorded from 1530." The notion of "good" as in the public good or national good is problematic; it has been used to rationalize nearly any kind of state violence that exists - from genocide to forced sterilizations etc. At this point it is possible to make that claim that the words threat and security are not antonyms, but work mutually together in security discourse to produce a politico-social affect. In this formulation the security of the state is garnered through the strategic creation and management of "threats."
This is done discursively, but responsibility has to be placed upon geo-political actions that also generate threats that necessarily require management. President Bush's declaration today that we are at war with Islamic Fascism, is a historically produced situation. Systemic US intervention in Muslim affairs have removed the political center to allow only extremes to exist. Here's where the management comes in. Once the extremes become more popular as modes of understanding the geo-political landscape, the more the US can make claims like Bush did this morning. The creation of a particular political reality requires continual discursive maintanence to harness the political and rhetorical power of the situation. A process that sequesters more and more authority in the face of contradiction.
The acceptance or rejection of the "threat" level is not simply a matter of access to education and information as some may argue or political affiliation (The right-wing Minutemen group rejects any threat level that is not SEVERE). Or even just a matter of ignorance. I think it also has to do with your position in the "ethnic state security map." If you are positioned poorly in this model, you will likely view security as political manipualtion and a threat to your personal security. If you are located in a favorable position, it is likely that you will agree with the security protocol proclaiming your allegence to the system of inequality that produces your priviledge.
"What can I wear today, I don't have anything to go with SEVERE!"
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Click HERE for continuation of comment stream on defintions and use of 'discourse'